Glimpses of our dancescape in Monsoon Dance Fest 2015
- Padma Jayaraj

July 21, 2015

In the first week of July, as the monsoon raged, dance lovers congregated in the Regional Theatre to celebrate a monsoon dance fiesta that comes with the regularity of monsoon for the past many years: an annual feature initiated by Navaneetham, a cultural trust based in Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. As the coastal winds swept, thunderstorm played a grand orchestra and flashes of lightning revealed the hidden beauties of the landscape from superb angles, the proscenium theatre enacted a parallel scene. The culture landscape of the subcontinent emerged in its diversity in a surreal manner under excellent lighting.  The events ranged from earthy folk dance to dramatic events in India’s epic journey through time, scanned cultural heritage, climbed philosophical heights, celebrated pure joy that art alone is capable of.  At another level the events showcased the growth and development of dance in the subcontinent.

Folk in idiom, tribal in ethos, the Bihu is a colorful vigorous dance, an early epoch from our dance heritage. The earthy folk idiom found expression in the dance by Dreamly Gogoi and her troupe from far away Assam. The 18 member team brought the rhythm of the North East to the South West. The artistic sculpting of life in the water logged terrain of Assam evokes memories of a past that the rural Kerala has left behind. The term Bihu means enjoyment. Bihu Dance is the celebration of life. Pastoral India was recreated by the beats of rural drums, by the music of the flute, and by the rhythmic movements of dancing bodies.  Bihu dance performed on different occasions paints the simplicity and beauty of village life, men and women engaged in agricultural ethos. Women fetching water from the river in their shining pots is real life yet a representation of fertility cult. The dance with brass plates is the representation of domestic chores.

Winnowing, fishing are rural beats. The varied tribal dances of Assam, whether Bodo, Rabha, Hajong, Tiwa, Goalporiya or Mishing, seem to be the same in their movements and music. Only the costume changed in a riot of colors to carve the signature of their identity. It is as if the land sang and danced in a display of its diversity. The movements also reveal how classical dances of later times have their roots here.  Young girls and boys dance to the music from their rural drums, flute and singing, bring alive the songs of spring and the joys of life.

The classical phase of Assam is seen in its Sattriya nritya, founded and composed by the great Vaishnava saints Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva in 15th and 16th centuries. They introduced devotional themes, refined pure dance and folk instruments. The troupe showcased both aspects.  True, the Vaishnava cult brought Krishna on to the centre-stage all over India introducing love and romance besides the devotional rendering enduring charms and colors.

Vyjayanthi Kashi
Vyjayanthi Kashi is an established dancer in the field of Kuchipudi. Her ‘Glimpses of Kuchipudi’ narrates the story of the growth of Kuchpudi from its origin to its finding a place on modern proscenium stage. The invocative piece on Goddess Saraswathi, a composition of Guru Vedantam Parvateesam, pointed to its origin in the temple precincts of a village in Andhra Pradesh. Composed in Miya Malhar and Talamalika, “Deham, devalayam …” displayed the opening of the chakras. Gayatri mantra created the spiritual ambience. Pure dance on the brass plate, the signature style of Kuchipudi, was magical. Her presentation of the clouds and the rains as the return of Krishna to Satyabhama, from Bhamakalapam, connected the recital to the theme of the monsoon. She then moved on to the modern themes of her own choreography.

The extraordinary plight of Gandhari as a woman in India dramatizes the plight that still haunts the women in the subcontinent.  The young beautiful princess full of dreams from the vantage point of royal life is unaware of her fate. She nurses the dream of becoming a queen mother, the source of a lineage. But what fate awaited her! To be the queen of a blind king and the woman whose birth pangs brought out a mass of flesh, the source of a lineage that annihilated itself! The dark world she created blindfolding herself in the name of pathivrita darkened a period in India’s history. The strength of Vyjayanthi’s dance lay in utilizing the basic dramatics of the dance form.   Both body language and facial expression intensified the heightened drama and Jose Koshi’s lighting enhanced by darkening the stage momentarily and darkening the life of Gandhari permanently. It was the daredevilry of Poothana, enacted as the lurking darkness in the persona of a woman. Both the characters from India’s ideational texts lend themselves to multiple interpretations and deeper implications at psychological and sociological levels.

Leena Mohanty began her dance recital invoking Siva that captured the charms of Odissi, in raag Pattadeep and taal khemta. One of the most graceful classical dance forms, Odissi evokes the temple heritage of the subcontinent.  Art all over the world grew around places of worship. In India, temples were homes of dance and music in the course of its glorious march. Her Pallavi in gradually ascending tempo captured the mood of the monsoon, in Madhyamadi raag and ektaali. The abhinaya part showcased the exploits of Krishna. Bhramaragita, an excerpt from Bhagavata is an alluring portrayal of Radha in conversation with the bumble bee, a messenger from Krishna. She enacted anecdotes from Bali-Sugrava fight and Vamana avatar. Odissi is a dance form that brings alive its intimate association with the Konark temple in its costume, in its poses and stances, its dancing sculptures coming alive in tribhanga poses.  Such a surreal experience was absent even when the lighting of Jose Koshi cast shadows and colors.

Dr. Neena Prasad is a prominent artiste of the new generation of Mohiniattam dancers. She is noted for her innovative pieces. Her nritta, replete with adavus has structural finesse.  Her brilliance shone right from cholkettu in Reethigowla to the thillana in Behag. Her two pieces stood out as exceptional. Without deviating from the framework of conventional idiom, she raised the theme of the dance item from the mythical to the symbolic and poetic. ‘Mohini,’ a Swathi kriti set in Suddhadhanyasi and misrachapu, her pada varnam, showed Mohini the archetypal, bewitching beauty and charmer, rising to the level of the incarnation of beauty, enthralling but elusive. She makes men slaves, yet imparts gifts. The gift comes in smaller doses to the good, and she hoodwinks the greedy. The dancer built up in slow cadence the embodiment of beauty that is intriguing, the spirit that churns the ocean of love.  It recalls the mythical context of the churning of the Ocean of Milk by the Devas and the Asuras. Soon emerges the essence as the Devas and the Asuras watch and wait eagerly. And she carries the gift which she gives to the worthy. She gives her gift, unalloyed happiness that confers eternity to the chosen few, to the good. 

‘Sakhyam’ is an innovative item that raises friendship as a higher value. The concept of Nara-Narayana is not new, but the performance highlighted its nuances taking it to nobler heights. Arjuna is cast in a different role. After the passing away of Krishna, after the submergence of Dwaraka, Arjuna’s attempts to save some of Krishna’s kin is the context. On their way to Hasthinapur, they are attacked and women are kidnapped.  The famous Ghandeeva lies lifeless and inactive. Arjuna succumbs to his innate weakness in facing the challenge of a situation. Unable to wield his weapon Arjuna stands stunned, encountering a similar situation for the second time in his life. The scene is reminiscent of the mood that brought out the Gita.  In a retrospective, crucial scenes in Kurukshetra are enacted that brings Krishna into focus - Krishna, his friend, guide and charioteer who showed him his mission in life. Sakhyam, friendship, prompted him to act out the role of his life, fulfilling his mission in the battle of Kurukshetra that made him a hero.  Arjuna hears once more the call of the Gita, rouses from lethargy, moves on, leaving the Ghandeeva behind for another heroic victory in different kind of struggle. Memories of the past nourishes the present rejuvenating Arjuna, to face a life without the Ghandeeva. The theme of the Gita is reiterated… “Move on, move on in spite of success or failure…, you have to move on”; Arjuna moves on. The choreography evokes the Bodhisattva taking the path of Ahimsa in his onward march in life. The central character now represents the philosophic quest that makes life meaningful, the touch of the mystique in the Indian context. Heroism is redefined as the search for higher values. As an experimental piece the solo item showcases Krishna and Arjuna as the two characters. The dominant emotion is sorrow and search for higher values.

What was missing in the dancescape is the vital presence of live orchestra. Of course technology has grown in proportion to help the dancers who have to count the distance and the finance. Neena Prasad managed to bring her team. Another lacuna is the profile of some aging artistes under the arc light. Although established in their respective fields, the marks of age dull their charm. But the excellence of dance is unbeatable. It is a coincidence that each dancer excelled in showcasing the pure dance numbers. As if anxious to put their signature, to retain their identity in these days of fusion and innovation, each one of them displayed more of pure dance. That the purity of a stream is its soul and spirit is what they wanted to convey even as leveling forces of the times strike, very much like the fury of monsoon that lashes the land. Yet, once it sweeps past what is visible is its essence what time has nurtured and its spirit which nothing can destroy, what we term as classical.

Madhumita Roy and her group from West Bengal brought the vibrant Kathak dance on stage showing its fluidity and versatility. The items showcased narrated the trajectory that Kathak took in its journey from temple to the proscenium theatre. In beautiful choreography the singular features of Kathak style of dancing created a magic of its own. The invocation of aum moved on to create ‘a nadabrahma’ in pure dance numbers with its signature spin, footwork that ranged from slow to fast, its torso movements, jumps and sudden stops. Her second item showcased Darbari, the expressive dance that flourished in Mughal courts. Her interpretive portion based on the mythological showed the influence of Bhakthi movement in the portrayal of Meera, the devotee of Krishna. Gajendra Moksha and Narasimha revealed temple heritage. ‘Draupadi’ at one stroke entered the modern stage. The oft repeated disrobing of Draupadi and Lord Krishna’s help in its epic dimension points to the feminist perspective of  present times. That the situation remains the same for women in India is a tragic reality. Women are still punished by disrobing and raping in patriarchal pockets away from civilized gaze; no Krishna intervenes despite our enactment of the story for justice. Perhaps divine retribution is hidden from public gaze. The team excelled in pure dance. The abstract ‘Rain,’ colorful, lyrical, vibrant, and joyous was a wonderful dance item that coalesced with the theme of monsoon fest. The joy of dance, like the joy of the rains, rained in the auditorium drenching the hearts of the viewers. It flowed from the hall, out into the yard beyond, merging with the monsoon rains from the night sky.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts. She is a regular contributor to